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Saudi Arabia and the UK: More and more questions as election nears

Opposition party leaders urge the UK Home Office to release its report into foreign funding of terror groups after it was suppressed
Theresa May has sought to create a post-Brexit trade deal with Saudi Arabia (AFP)

Questions continue to dog the UK government over its relationship with Saudi Arabia just days before the general election. 

Opposition parties called on the government to release a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups, which has been delayed by the UK Home Office, as criticism mounts over Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia. 

The report, commissioned by then-prime minister David Cameron in 2016, sought to investigate the foreign funding of "extremist" groups. It was intended as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats to support air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. 

But the report may never be published due to its "sensitive" contents which are thought to directly implicate Saudi Arabia in the funding of militant groups.  

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron on Monday called on the UK Home Office to release the report. 

Corbyn has made Britain's decades-long alliance with Saudi Arabia an election issue. But the current Conservative government is pushing for a post-Brexit trade deal with the Gulf kingdom and continues to sell weapons to support its bombing campaign in Yemen. 

Saudi gifts to Conservative ministers 

The delay to the publication of the report comes as parliamentary documents reveal that senior Conservative government ministers have been lavished with gifts and consulting fees by Saudi Arabia since the Yemen war began. 

Figures published on the parliamentary register of financial interests revealed that senior Conservative ministers and MPs collected £99,396 ($128,035) in gifts, travel expenses and consulting fees from the government of Saudi Arabia.

Former foreign secretary Philip Hammond, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had come under fire for defending a mass execution in Saudi Arabia, accepted a watch from the Saudi ambassador worth £1,950 ($2,517).

Charlotte Leslie MP, who is the chair of the House of Commons all-party group on Saudi Arabia, received a food basket from the Gulf kingdom with an estimated value of £500 ($644).

The Saudi Arabian government has also picked up the tab for four expenses-paid junkets taken by Tory lawmakers to visit the kingdom since the Yemen war began.

At least 18 Conservative MPs have participated in the trips, according to parliamentary documents, with the cost for accommodation, travel and meals for the MPs ranging from £2,888 ($3,724) to £6,722 ($8,668) each. 

Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, one of the participants in a Saudi junket last year, was also paid £2,000 ($2,579) per month as an adviser to the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, a state-backed think tank in Saudi Arabia. The arrangement began in February 2016.

Yemen war 

Since the last UK election in 2015, the Conservative government has licensed £4.1bn ($5.3bn) worth of arms to the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia being its largest customer. 

During the first 12 months of the Saudi-led coalition military campaign in Yemen which began in March 2015, Britain approved £3.3bn ($4.3 bn) worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. 

Corbyn has used Britain's relationship with Saudi Arabia to call for an "ethical foreign policy" and an immediate review of arms sales to the Gulf kingdom, which has been accused of perpetrating war crimes in Yemen.

The Conservatives hit back at criticism of its relationship with Riyadh by saying its that it is in Britain's national interest to have an alliance with the oil-rich kingdom.

Conservative defence minister, Michael Fallon, said on 11 May that Saudi Arabia was fully entitled to defend itself and fully entitled to call on its friends in so doing. “Saudi Arabia is a key partner of ours - an enormously important trading partner, a commercial partner, but also a defence partner…

"Every arms export application is very carefully looked at and judged by our criteria - some of the toughest in the world. But Saudi Arabia, equally, is entitled to defend itself," Fallon told the BBC.